Siopis was born in 1953 in Vryburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town. She has an MFA (1976) and an Honorary Doctorate (2017) from Rhodes University, Grahamstown. Siopis is currently an Honorary Professor at Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town. She works in painting, film/video, photography and installation. Her work since the early 1980s has covered different foci but her interest in what she calls the 'poetics of vulnerability' characterises all her explorations, from her earlier engagements with history, memory and migration to her later concerns with shame, violence and sexuality.
Solo exhibitions include This is a True Story: Six Films (1997 - 2017), a retrospective of Siopis’ film works at Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town (2018); Penny Siopis: Films, Erg Gallery, Brussels (2016); Incarnations, ICA Indian Ocean, Mauritius (2016); Time and Again: A Retrospective Exhibition, South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2014) and Wits Art Museum, Johannesburg (2015); Red: The iconography of colour in the work of Penny Siopis, KZNSA Gallery, Durban (2009), and Three Essays on Shame, Freud Museum, London (2005).
Notable group shows include The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017); Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future: A new lexicon for the biennial, 10th Taipei Biennial (2016); South Africa: The art of a nation, British Museum, London (2016); Boundary Objects, Kunsthaus Dresden (2015); After Eden/Après Eden - The Walther Collection, La Maison Rouge, Paris (2015); Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco (2014); Prism: Drawing from 1990-2011, Museum of Contemporary Art, Oslo (2012); Appropriated Landscapes, Walther Collection, Neu-Ulm/Burlafingen, Germany (2011); PEEKABOO - Current South Africa, Tennis Palace Art Museum, Helsinki (2010); Black Womanhood: Images, Icons and Ideologies of the African Body, Hood Museum, New Hampshire; Davis Museum, Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the San Diego Museum of Art, California (2008), as well as the biennales of Taipei (2016), Venice (South African Pavilion 2013, and 2003), Sydney (2010), Johannesburg (1995 and 1997), Gwangju (1997) and Havana (1994 and 1997).